The eight main Hawaiian Islands are not only wildly different from one another, but one side of the island can be in stark contrast to the other. Nowhere is this truer than on the island of Kauai, where the legendary north shore is unlike anything you’ll find across Kauai, and even throughout the islands as a whole. From hidden caves and picturesque beaches to mouthwatering shave ice spots and breathtaking gardens, these 11 hidden gems found along Kauai’s north shore are just part of what makes this area so unique.
1. Tunnels Beach
With enticing turquoise waters, a plethora a of sea life, and the mountains of the Na Pali coast behind you, there’s no questioning why Tunnel’s is one of the best snorkeling destinations on Kauai.
2. Hanalei Valley Lookout
A jaw-dropping vista awaits you at the Hanalei Valley Lookout – the Hanalei River and expansive taro fields are flanked on either side by majestic mountains and waterfalls. Just off Highway 56/560, this picturesque lookout point proves that it’s not always about the ocean views.
3. Nualolo Kai
A small beach and untouched valley surrounded by towering cliffs, Nualolo Kai is not only home to a large barrier reef, but also to one of the most extensive and well-preserved archaeological sites in all of Hawaii. Nualolo Kai is the site of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village, as well as an extensive Heiau (Hawaiian temple).
4. Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge
Located on Kauai’s north shore is 203 acres of protected land, where the Pacific golden plover, Laysan albatross and the nene – the Hawaii state bird – live. The Kilauea lighthouse is just a short walk from the parking lot. First illuminated on May 1, 1913, it is the northernmost point of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands.
5. Wishing Well Shave Ice
Some of the best food in Hawaii comes from unassuming food trucks on the side of the road, and nowhere is that more true than Wishing Well Shave Ice, a Hanalei favorite. With a wide variety of organic shave ice flavors, refreshing acai bowls, and that perfect cup of coffee, Wishing Well is a must-visit.
6. Open-Ceiling Sea Cave
This geological formation is surrounded by high rock walls, and features an open ceiling to the sky. You can view the sea cave from above, or enter it on a boat tour. The light from the cave's open ceiling penetrates the water, and creates an ethereal blue hue that changes colors with the moving sun.
7. Queen's Bath
Located in the town of Princeville on Kauai’s north shore is a unique tide pool known as Queen’s Bath once used as a bathing spot for Hawaiian royalty. A sinkhole surrounded by igneous rock, this incredible geological formation is not only a vibrant turquoise pool set in the striking black lava shoreline, but it is also a dangerous lava bench exposed to deadly high surf.
8. Waioli Mission House + Church
Built in 1912, the green, spired church is often regarded as the most photographed building in Hanalei, Kauai – and no one is questioning why. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, inside the home you’ll find a wall clock that was installed in 1866, and still keeps perfect time.
9. Ke'e Beach
Located in Haena State Park, Ke'e Beach marks the end of the Kuhio Highway, the furthest you can drive on Kauai's north shore. A protected reef makes this an idyllic spot for snorkeling and swimming during the summer.
10. Limahuli Garden
Situated on Kauai’s north shore in a tropical valley is Limahuli Gardens, overlooking the ocean and Makana Mountain, and featuring lava rock terraces built by ancient Hawaiians in order to cultivate taro.
11. Maniniholo Dry Cave
Located just off Kuhio Highway within Haena State Park is this magical cave, which offers a sandy floor, low ceiling and the lore of an evil spirit dwelling within. Rumor has it that during a conflict between the Menehune and Polynesian settlers, the Menehune used this secret tunnel to escape to the north shore. After they were all through, they created a collapse and trapped the Polynesians inside. The cave has a large opening, is at least 100 feet deep, and is perfect to explore with children - just don’t forget your flashlight!